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How did the old Belk Beery building at Second and Chestnut streets become the main branch of the county library?

Ben Steelman

By the mid-1970s, it became clear that the New Hanover County Public Library would have to move out of the old Wilmington Light Infantry building at 409 Market St. which it had occupied since 1955.

 Pile-driving for the construction of the county’s Law Enforcement Center apparently opened cracks in parts of the library building in 1975. At one point, the librarians and the books had to move temporarily into the old Acme building at Front and Chestnut streets.

Then, Belk Beery moved out of its downtown location after opening its department store at the new Independence Mall in 1979. That left a big, empty building  — at a time when downtown real estate was at a premium.

Eventually, Belk Beery agreed to sell the downtown building for $500,000 and the City of Wilmington offered New Hanover County some $3 million in grant money, if the library remained downtown.

The New Hanover County Commissioners accepted the deal and hired a Charlotte architectural firm to handle the renovation.

 Star-News clippings from the period show the deal was not without controversy. Some residents thought the library headquarters should move out into the suburbs.

Others objected to plans that closed the main Belk Beery entrance, at the corner of Second and Chestnut streets, squared off the curved southwestern corner of the building and reoriented  the main entrance to face toward Third Street. The architects argued that this move put the entrance close to the building’s existing elevator shafts.

The $3.2 million renovation was completed on March 9, 1981, and the new library building was formally dedicated on May 15, 1981, with New York Times cultural correspondent and book reviewer Herbert Mitgang as the featured speaker.

For more information, see “A Century of Stories:  New Hanover County Public Library 1906-2006″ by Beverly Tetterton.

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2 Responses to “ How did the old Belk Beery building at Second and Chestnut streets become the main branch of the county library?”

  1. On August 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm Steven Gause wrote:

    Your dates don’t line up. If Belk moved to Independence Mall in 1979 – how did the Library reopen in their downtown space in 1971?

  2. On August 3, 2010 at 1:46 pm Ben Steelman wrote:

    Thanks for catching a typographical error. The library opened in 1981, instead of ’71.

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